MADISON - When University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers succeeded in reprogramming skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells, they also began to redefine the political and ethical dynamics of the stem-cell debate, a leading bioethicist says. R. Alta Charo, a UW-Madison professor of law and bioethics, says the scientific finding could have far-reaching effects on the social dimensions of the ongoing controversy over embryonic stem cell research.
"This is a method for creating a stem cell line without ever having to work through, at any stage, an entity that is a viable embryo," Charo says. "Therefore, you manage to avoid many of those debates with the right-to life community."
The research alters the debates surrounding both human embryonic stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning. For ordinary embryonic stem cell research, it offers a means of obtaining pluripotent cell lines from a non-embryonic source. For cloning research, it offers a means to make customized, pluripotent cell lines without having to create an intermediate embryo that is a "clone" of an adult person, she says.
Charo says the discovery could remove objections from critics on both the right and left wings of the political spectrum.
To derive embryonic stem cells, it is necessary to remove critical cells from an embryo, resulting in its destruction. That triggers opposition from right-to-life critics of the research, who cite moral and ethical concerns. The research has also generated opposition from some members of the women's movement who object the use of stimulating drugs in women who agree to donate eggs for cloning research aimed at creating specialized embryonic stem cell lines.
The latest findings have the potential to render both of those objections moot, since the research showed that introducing four genes into cells derived from skin cells, called human fibroblasts, resulted in cells that essentially share all the fe
|Contact: R. Alta Charo|
University of Wisconsin-Madison